Beyond a certain point, the US Senate race in Kansas was always going to be close and it was always going to be weird.
With no Democratic Party challenger on the ballot, three-term Republican incumbent Pat Roberts still feels the hot, threatening breath of possible defeat in the form of independent Greg Orman.
Sen. Roberts – an establishment Republican who most Kansans think spends too much time in Washington – fought off a tea party challenger in the GOP primary. But this past week he brought in tea party darling Sarah Palin to help generate pro-Roberts enthusiasm among the GOP's disgruntled right wing. Other leading Republicans are headed to Kansas too to help out in a race that could determine control of the Senate.
Let Monitor political reporter Linda Feldmann set the scene:
Kansas became the most unusual Senate race this cycle on Sept. 3, when the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, dropped out (at the urging of his own party). Independent candidate Greg Orman, a wealthy businessman, had proved a more viable opponent, both in message and in fundraising, and the Democrats wanted to go head-to-head against the incumbent. Roberts had been running a lackluster reelection effort, including a bumbling admission that he doesn’t own a home in Kansas. The GOP has sent in top strategists to save Roberts.
The Democrats (and Mr. Orman) got a boost in mid-September when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democrat Taylor's name shouldn’t appear on the November ballot, which set up a one-on-one fight between Orman and Roberts.
The challenger got another boost Sunday in a new NBC/Marist poll showing the incumbent trailing Orman by 10 percentage points (38-48). By 47-37 percent, a plurality of likely Kansas voters have an unfavorable view of Roberts. Orman, on the other hand, enjoys a 46-26 percent favorable/unfavorable rating, according to this poll.
Roberts is "in a great deal of trouble out there,” says Marist pollster Lee Miringoff. “He’s got high negatives, his intensity of support is low, he’s losing independents by more than two to one. His to-do list is rather large in the remaining time before Election Day.”
The race is closer in a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll, but Orman is ahead here too (46-41 percent). The Real Clear Politics polling average has Orman ahead by five points as well.
Still, Kansas may be an outlier in the broader trend toward a GOP takeover of the US Senate.
In his online "Crystal Ball," Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, puts it this way:
"So many undecided contests are winnable for the GOP that the party would have to have a string of bad luck – combined with a truly exceptional Democratic get-out-the-vote program – to snatch defeat from the wide-open jaws of victory. Or Republicans would have to truly shoot themselves in the foot in at least one race, which has become a clear possibility over the last few weeks in Kansas."